Thursday 31 January 2008

TIF January Finished

As I couldn't decide which of my Manipulated Moores to use for January TIF challenge, I decided to use 2 and make a double sided piece. I changed the palette of colours using Photoshop 7 indexed colour, printed the 'Madonna' onto a silk/cotton gauze and the 'Hill' onto cotton poplin. I used bondaweb to stick a cutout of the sculpture onto a cotton background. In both cases the colours in the printing were not the same as on the screen ( which were accurate as the Pantone numbers had been used). And the colours look different again when photographed. I made a sandwich of the 2 images on their backgrounds and then stitched with Oliver Twist cottons ( same colour in bobbin and top thread) first outlining the Hill in light green then flipping and stitching round the Madonna in purple. I continued alternating sides for stitching and changing threads until I was reasonably satisfied ( well don't expect experiments to be wholly satisfactory first time)
I'm happier with the 'Hill' side as the stitching shows up better on the simpler shape. I also like the effect of a figure superimposed on an abstract scupltural background although the subtlety of the drawing has been lost . More exploration required

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Treasured Threads

Unpacking more sewing items, I unearthed my treasured 2 boxes of Gutterman silk buttonhole threads. Mum bought them at an Embroiderers Guild sales table in the 1970's ( priced at 7p a reel, she bought the lot! ) Love the decal of a lady at her sewing machine in her overall ( as Ian says 'looks like a Thoroughly Modern Miss' ) I've enjoyed using them over the years for hand stitching and more recently in the bobbin , machine stitching from the back . I was contemplating how much having these materials to hand and in these colours, have directed how I've worked and what quilts I've done. I used most of the greens up and a lot of the blues stitching 'blue-green algae' in the 1990's and then used the yellows, reds and browns stitching spirals in 'Maggie Springs' ( which I sold!) and more recently for the sand ripples in 'Erg Chebbi'. I've used them in a lot of other pieces too but I've noticed a reluctance lately to use them, (although I like to admire them in their battered box) not wanting to use up a finite resource. It maybe because I'm breaking out of being constrained by a particular colour palette or method of working. It also would be a shame to smother their wonderful sheen in acrylics which is how I'm abusing threads these days.

'Blue-Green Algae' detail - based on diatoms

'Erg Chebbi' detail - sand ripples on dune in Morocco

Monday 28 January 2008

Cheshire Cat and Puppy

While sorting out my stash and stuff in preparation for the Final Delivery of goods in storage, I came across this canvas work sampler 'Cheshire Cat' that Mum made for her City and Guilds embroidery course in 1980 (based on the idea of a Staffordshire Pottery figure). I was about to put it back in a drawer but Ian has taken a fancy to it, comparing it to Jeff Koon's 'Puppy' , outside the Guggenheim in Bilbao (we went there for our honeymoon). I see what he means- similar colours and a simple shape. Not quite on the same scale tho' which is probably just as well. The teeth are made of white pvc that glint in the dark - a bit eerie when going to the loo in the middle of the night. Imagine that the size of a building....

Thursday 24 January 2008


Ever since I saw the 'Forgotten Empire' exhibition at the British Museum in 2005, I've wanted to see the remains of Persepolis in situ. It didn't disappoint. On the coach journey from Shiraz to the site we were played a video which although it was slightly 'And lo'...' ,with its reconstructions did give a good overview of the site and how it might have looked. We did get a bit giggly about the Pythonesque description of the Hall of 100 Columns being 'so called as it had 100 columns' but I think that might have had something to do with the lack of sleep due to the delayed flight from Tehran to Shiraz.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Painting Experiments

While waiting for Sofa Workshop to deliver our new sofa, I had an hour away from working on latest book to set up a painting space in the 'conservatory' and apply some acrylics to some stitched samples. I still have ideas in my head for more pieces arising from the Strindberg piece I did last year - problems not resolved, techniques to push further. Most people are surprised how vibrant and patterned the underlying fabrics are. I made up some samples of a variety of different fabrics , not just African wax this time,( used Dream Cotton 'Select' wadding in the sandwich) and then machine and hand stitched in ripple patterns. I applied acrylics (Liquitex firm body) straight from tube with a palette knife but not to the whole piece so that a strip of the original fabric can be seen. It's a bit distracting to look at ( as you can see in the 'studio' shot below) so I've cropped the image in Photoshop and shown the 'before' stage separately.

Fabric 1: A heavy cotton canvas (pattern called 'Tipsy'!) I liked the pattern already printed on it but it was difficult to hand stitch and also to paint and the texture of the canvas showed through when painted.

Fabric 1 Before

Fabric 1 After

Fabric 2 : A vintage black/brown cotton sateen with abstract orange pattern. Easy to stitch and paint and like the result- only concern is the stretch and distortion of sateen when used on a larger scale
Fabric 2 Before

Fabric 2 After

Fabric 3 (top)and 4(bottom): An African damask shibori in orange and blue (still with starch in ) and Kaffe Fassett Roman Glass - an old favourite of mine. Both fabrics easy to stitch. The damask didn't take paint that well (probably because of the starch) and the pattern showing through was too dominant. Its also too gorgeous a fabric to hide under paint! ( which is why I was a bit mean in the size of sample)
The dots and circles of the Roman Glass were not as prominent as I thought they might be - definitely one for consideration
Fabrics 3&4 Before

Fabrics 3&4 After
Fabric 5: African wax fabric mainly of wild large pink and black leaves. These African wax prints really stitch well and are a good surface for painting on. I rather like the vibrant pink and black showing through but perhaps wouldn't want too much of it!
Fabric 5 Before

Fabric 5 After
Next step is to make up a larger trial sample using fabrics 2,4&5 to see how they work together.
What I also might try is using a different palette of acrylic colours (greens)- the shapes of the stitched ripples also suggest land forms .

Monday 21 January 2008

Sewing Desk

Next stage of sorting out the studio space/playroom was assembling the sewing desk. Again a donation from Sue and Peter (along with 1 drawer version that Ian has as a computer table in his den). The desks were in their storage for 6 months in parts ( along with the wardrobe) and they offered to come and assemble them for us. And very grateful we were as at times even they couldn't follow the instructions they'd written. At one tricky point, with difficult to access screws, I asked Peter whether he wanted a 'short chubby one' meaning screwdriver but we all dissolved in laughter as realised it could just as well apply to myself!

The desk is very substantial wood 195 x 80 cm. The height of the legs is adjustable ( not without some effort- its very heavy). Although it is in theory set at the ideal height for sewing, its a bit lower that the built-in work surface I had at my previous flat. I've had a test run using my machine and I have to position my pedal foot further back than previously. Probably much better position and posture but it'll take a bit of getting used to. Perhaps I'll even have a go with the knee lift which I've never really got on with.
What I was sewing was some test pieces to paint over with acrylics. It'll be a first for that too in this property, I've just realised I haven't done any painting since July apart from some watercolour sketches and getting a bit twitchy. The pieces on my cork board are my selection of 5 for exhibiting from CQ Journal Quilt 2007 Challenge. I'm still debating whether to join in the 2008 challenge as the format is 12 x 12 inches rather than A4. I could end up doing 3 JQ's a month with TIF as well!

Friday 18 January 2008

Sorting the Stash, Part 1

Yesterday, the guys from Nolte came to assemble the wonderfully large 3 door wardrobe kindly donated by Sue and Peter as it was too big for their new house. As a Northern Girl in Exile, it was refreshing be teased by the Yorkshire men ('' You''ll need a stepladder for that Love'') even if I do come from the other side of the Pennines.
In my loft space in the previous property('the love nest') my most accessible fabric selection was stored on its edge in wooden boxes on Ikea's 'Ivar' wooden shelving, filed by colour. Needless to say I had numerous other bags and boxes of fabric and associated paraphernalia. For the move, this was all stored in various size plastic stacking boxes which was quite convenient as could see the contents but inevitably what was needed was at at the bottom of the pile.
I've just been sorting out some of these boxes into the 10 large wire baskets, separating for the first time the silk from the cotton and am editing out the more obviously floral for charity shop/ sale. I've always been keen on recycling fabrics - my clothes and offcuts from dressmaking, finds from jumble sales and charity shops. The problem is that on the whole these have been filed separately from my main stash and use of them has been varied and less than I'd like. As part of the restocking/re-stacking process I'm now trying to incorporate some of these treasures and also get rid of a lot.
Next problem is how to dispose of the sleeves, trouser legs, collars etc. Recycling green bin, rubbish? And then how do I edit and store all my art equipment and art folders and what about all the stuff that's coming out of store. Aghhh......

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Palaces, Poets and Fortune Teller

Thanks for the encouraging comments about potential of a 'train' piece, I'll keep you posted on how I progress.
Meanwhile, back to Iran. You may have thought it was all blue tiles and restraint (patience, you'll get your fill of faience) but we also saw quite a lot of (admittedly tasteful) bling. You might have seen the modern glass mosaic work exhibited at the V&A a couple of years ago - we saw it in various places in situ, my favourite being the Naranjestan Gardens in Shiraz ( seemed even more opulent having visited the elegant Persepolis in the morning)
BTW ornamental cabbages were everywhere in bedding schemes throughout Iran - I would have loved to have seen the scale of their production and also wondered whether they used them all year round or just in the winter.

Before we headed off for Yazd, we visited the tomb of Hafez, one of Iran's most famous poets. The poetry lost something in its 'freely adapted' translation I think- to our ears it sounded saccharine sweet. As we left, a fortune teller turned up - his budgie picked out slips of paper ( most of the duty reaping rewards variety). The excited chatter of a school group in green headscarves added to the cacophony ( girls and boys attend the same schools but at different times of day - there is no co-education until University)

Tomb of Hafez

Fortune Teller and Flock of Schoolgirls

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Re-visiting Previous Work

I was going to add some more photos from Iran ( lots more still to share) but then I went off track when reading Olga's blog and got to thinking about how ideas for pieces of work can seem suddenly relevant after a few years laid to rest. Perhaps some have a greater gestation period than others or need to be put aside for a while. The paintings of Atsuhide Ito that Olga highlighted really resonated for me with some ideas and sample pieces I made in 2004. I hadn't had my digital camera that long and coming home from the Festival of Quilts I snapped out of the train window and really liked the blurred landscapes and the reflections off the carriage windows. I experimented with printing double images on cotton and overlaying with silk organza for that months Journal quilt
I then did some printing of some simpler images onto silk and applied them to some old wool blanket and joined the whole lot together with twin needle stitching. There were 6 sections in total and I was planning how I might extend this idea, making an even longer work. One of the problems was that long narrow pieces are difficult to photograph and display ( as for fitting them into a quilt category........) so I didn't take it further at the time.

Train Sequence 2

Train sequence 4

Train sequence 6

I still continued to take pictures from trains including a trip to Japan - I loved the familiarity of the images ( tracks, pylons , stations, etc) but also the differences -, the scale of landscape, the colours (bright green rice fields) and shapes of buildings. I have a whole folder called (imaginatively! )Japan Train - some images below.

So why haven't I worked since on blurred train images? I think that might go back to 7/7 2005 when I was on the last train from Kings Cross seconds before the bombs went off. I was at a meeting in Peterborough and thought I would be stranded there with no information about what had happened to friends and family. In the end I got home very late thanks to someone giving me a lift well out of his way and coming into Ealing from Reading on the train. My July Journal quilt was based on that experience and I did think of using photos I'd taken previously on that route and calling it 'the Journey home' but it felt wrong - it was too obvious , too personal and quilts with meaning spelt out are not my style.
But I'm excited now about re-visiting the idea of a 'train' quilt , especially with the Japanese images. Just don't read anything into it........

Saturday 12 January 2008

Takht-I-Soleiman (Throne of Soloman)

After a night in Zanjan ( and a late departure as our bus was a bit reluctant to start in the cold )we visited Takht -I Soleiman ( Throne Of Solomon). This site is the holiest shrine of Zoroastrian and a World Heritage Site. The ruins lie on a plateau arising from the deposits of a highly mineralised lake fed from an underground source with an extinct volcano ( Zendan-I Soleiman) nearby.The main Zoroastrian temple ( with its 'everlasting' flame) was built in 5th century AD on the top of remains of Parthian buildings, themselves constructed on older dwellings from first Millenium BC. In the late 13th century the site experienced a renaissance when it was a summer capital of mongol rulers but abandoned from 17th century. The designs of the fire temple, palace and layout of site are thought to have heavily influenced the development of Islamic architecture
I went to Iran expecting to be bowled over by the blue mosaics - I certainly enjoyed them but what got to me unexpectedly was the Zoroastrian sites ( more about Yazd in another post).
We felt really privileged to see Takht-I Soleiman in the snow - it wouldn't have had half the impact in the heat of summer. The combination of the sparkle from the snow and the reflections of the ruins in the steam rising from the sacred lake ( warm at about 37 c) made it spectacularly atmospheric. You could see how the ancients would have selected and venerated such a site.

View of Zendan-I-Soleiman from fire temple

Location of fire temple - Zoroastrians do not venerate fire as such but what it represents; goodness and purifying energy

Part of palace. Steam rising from the sacred lake.

Sunset over Zendan-I Soleiman ( most climbed up to the crater, I did a bad sketch instead tho' our bus driver cheered me on )

Moon rise

Friday 11 January 2008

Sultan Oljaitu Khodabandeh Mausoleum

Our first exposure to the wonderful turquoise faience tiles of Iran was at the Mausoleum of the Mongal Sultan Oljaitu Khodabandeh in the small town of Sultaniyeh about 40km froom Zanjan in the north of the country.
The large blue dome stands out in the landcape ( despite the scaffolding) - not surprising as its dome is one of the largest in the world at 48 metres high and 25 metres diameter. It is the earliest existing example of the double -shelled dome in Iran ( c. 1306). The mausoleum is built of brick, octagonal in shape with remains of 8 minarets, more reminiscent of buildings of central Asia than nearby Azerbaijan.

The inside was full of scaffolding ( restoration just started in the interior) and as not allowed to use flash, photography was a bit limited. Beautiful sections of tileing and plasterwork could be glimpsed.

We climbed up steep steps to higher levels. The gallery vaults were particularly finely decorated with painted mouldings executed during the period after Oljaitu's conversion to Shi'ism. Many of the patterns and motifs stem from China ( perhaps derived from Central Asian or Mongolian costumes - we're really on the Silk Road here)

At the highest level, could step out gingerly onto a rooftop and look up to the faience on the outside of the building and on the dome - breathtaking

Also from the gallery and rooftop had great views over the snowy landscape below. The orange bus is ours!

On a roundabout on the outskirts of Sultaniyeh we asked to stop the bus so we could take photos of the amazing orange electric palm tree! Everywhere we went in Iran on roundabouts and road central reservations at night there were brilliantly lit trees- mainly palm trees or trees with cherry blossom - so convincing ( at least from a distance ) that one of our party had to be convinced that it wasn't a real tree smothered in strings of LED lights. I suspect that they are made in China - I want one!